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COVID-19: Churches, mosques to reopen as schools remain shut

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COVID-19: Churches, mosques to reopen as schools remain shut
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…Phase two of eased lockdown to last 4 weeks; curfew from 10pm to 4am

…To commence domestic flights on June 21; Banks, financial institutions reopened fully

…Insists on temporary ban of evacuation of citizens in diaspora; Says, it’s still safer to stay at home

…Many Nigerians will suffer if governors take over COVID-19 response – NMA

…Gov Bello locks down Kabba/Bunu LGA, asks some doctors to self-isolate

By Omeiza Ajayi, Boluwaji Obahopo & Dirisu Yakubu

THE Federal Government yesterday ordered “restrictive opening” of worship centres but with a caveat that relevant containment protocols against COVID-19 be respected, in line with the agreement reached between the Presidential Task Force, PTF on COVID-19 and state governments.

The PTF, which disclosed this during its daily briefing also announced the second phase of its eased lockdown which would be in place for four weeks, with the 8pm to 6am cyrfew imposed on the country reviewed to between 10pm and 4am.

The initial six-week eased lockdown ended by midnight yesterday, but the Presidential Task Force PTF on COVID-19 said the pandemic was still very potent as Nigeria has not reached the peak of infection.

The new phase of the lockdown also places a ban on interstate movement, gatherings with more than 20 people, among others.

While it said states can relax the restrictions placed on religious houses, the PTF, however, reviewed the 8pm to 6pm curfew imposed on the country to between 10pm and 4am.

It said since the transmission had got to community level, it was expected that states and local governments would now drive the process in their areas of responsibility.

The PTF also announced the full opening of banks and the financial services sector but stated that schools remained closed until medical experts gave the nod for reopening, adding that the aviation industry was taking steps to see how domestic flights could commence  on June 21.

Phase two of lockdown

Chairman of the PTF and Secretary to the Government of the Federation SGF, Mr Boss Mustapha, in his remarks, noted:  “Nigeria has not reached the peak of confirmed cases. We are still in the first wave. We haven’t even reached the peak of the first wave.

‘’The basic question that most Nigerians will ask now is,  are we going to see an increase? Yes, we are going to see an increase but we are putting infrastructure in place that will now tell us exactly what is happening. We are ramping up the tests.’’

He said the battle against COVID-19 was a long term one and that Nigeria had to pursue a strategy that would aid the sustainable control of the spread of the disease.

He said:   “Risk communications and community engagement should remain top priority; and precision approach to containment and management should be adopted.

“Based on the overall assessment, including available data on the public health considerations and resultant economic impacts, the PTF is of the opinion that Nigeria is ready to allow science and data determine her cautious advancement into the second phase of the eased lockdown for a period of four weeks.

“After considering all factors mentioned above, the PTF submitted its recommendations and the President has approved the following for implementation over the next four weeks spanning 2nd – 29th June, 2020, subject to review.

‘’Cautious advance into the Second Phase of the national response to COVID-19; application of science and data to guide the targeting of areas of on-going high transmission of COVID-19 in the country;

”Mobilisation of all resources at state and local government levels to create public awareness on COVID-19 and improve compliance with non-pharmaceutical interventions within communities.

“Sustenance of key non-pharmaceutical interventions that would apply nationwide and include ban of gatherings of more than 20 people outside of a workplace; relaxation of restriction on places of Worship based on guidelines issued by the PTF and protocols agreed by state governments.

“Manage access to markets and locations of economic activity to limit the risk of transmission; ban on inter-state travels except for movement of agricultural produce, petroleum products, manufactured goods and essential services.’’

Mustapha said the above were in addition to all other measures, including the mandatory use of non-medical face masks in public places, social distancing and others.

The PTF, however, announced the easing of the total lockdown of Kano State and introduction of Phase one of the ease lockdown.

The Task Force expressed worries that the global epicenter of the pandemic has shifted from China to Europe, then to the United States of America and now showing significant impact in South and Central America.

“This shift to South America with virtually similar climatic and demographic similarities with Africa, is a cause for concern when we consider the fact that earlier projections pointed to Africa as likely to be the worst hit continent, by the pandemic,” Mustapha stated.

He said no country had been able to survive the virus just by embarking on a lockdown, saying the people have to own the fight and protect themselves by adhering to safety protocols.

60 percent disease burden in 20 LGAs

The SGF also disclosed that the government had been able to interrupt the transmission and situate the pandemic largely within 20 of the 774 local government areas in the country which now bear 60 percent burden of COVID-19.

He said: “Majority of the confirmed cases are in a handful of local governments in the country. Twenty out of the 774 LGAs nationwide account for 60% of the cases.

READ ALSO: COVID-19: Kaduna to visit 29,771 households

“There is an opportunity to concentrate efforts in these high-burden areas. Federal agencies and state governments are working together on the promotion and utilisation of guidelines on case management (e.g. homecare for relatively well patients)”.

Schools’ll not reopen yet, Minister insists

Minister of State, Education, Emeka Nwajiuba, again restated the decision of the ministry not to reopen schools, saying the government would not expose its children to the virus.

National Coordinator of the PTF, Dr Sani Aliyu, who announced the reopening of the financial services sector, also urged security operatives to respect all the exemptions as announced in all its guidelines.

He said: “The next four weeks is to balance public safety with protecting livelihoods as well as allowing the full restoration of economic activities across the country.

“Effective from Tuesday June 2, 2020, the easing of the lockdown will be characterized by the following:  the nationwide curfew will remain in place but the timing of this will reduce to 10pm to 4am. Just to clarify, the purpose of the curfew is to limit social interactions and, therefore, reduce the risk of transmission of the virus.

“Persons that are on essential duties, including but not limited to those involved in the provision of healthcare services, media services and critical infrastructure, are exempted from the curfew.

“All interstate travels by individuals remain prohibited except for essential travel and the movement of goods and services. All restrictions on the free movement of goods and services are now removed in this phase.

“There will be full opening of the financial sector with banks now allowed to operate normal working hours, five days a week.

“The mass gathering of more than 20 people outside of a work place or places of worship remains prohibited.

“Restricted opening of places of worship will be based on state governments’ protocols and with strict guidelines on physical distancing and other non-pharmaceutical interventions. This will apply to regular church and mosque services only”, he added.

According to Aliyu, the temporary halt in the evacuation of Nigerians from other countries remains suspended until further notice.

Aliyu added that the aviation industry has been requested to start developing protocols for domestic flights to possibly resume from June 21.

Aviation minister, Hadi Sirika said the ministry would consider both the technical and health aspect of the impact of the COVID-19 before reopening the airports.

Sirika in a statement signed by James Odaudu, Director, Public Affairs, Federal Ministry of Aviation, said the three weeks period between now and the resumption date was to enable operators adhere to all the necessary industry regulations, without which they cannot take to the skies after being dormant for some time.

On modalities for the operation of flights when they resume, Senator Sirika said consultations had been on, and would continue between the Ministry and industry players on the best ways to operate profitably, while at the same time ensuring the safety of travellers.

The minister cautioned owners of private aircraft who have been in the habit of asking for permits to fly within the country, despite the restrictions, to desist, saying the restrictions were still in place, except for those on essential services which had been clearly defined.

He also made it clear and unequivocal that approval for flights on essential services was not paid for, while it takes little or no time to grant such approvals.

NMA warns against govs taking charge

Meanwhile, President of Nigerian Medical Association, NMA, Prof. Innocent Ujah, yesterday asked President Muhammadu Buhari not to allow states take full control of managing the COVID-19 pandemic in the country.

Boss Mustapha, Secretary to the Government of the Federation, SGF, and chairman of the Presidential Task Force, PTF, on COVID-19, had said on Sunday that in the next phase of the lockdown beginning from yesterday (Monday), states would take responsibility for managing COVID-19 in their areas.

“I can assure you of one thing: the ownership of the next phase will be the responsibility of the states under national supervision and coordination, because we have gone into community transmission. Where are the communities? The communities are in the states,” the SGF had said.

But speaking on Sunrise, A Channels Television, breakfast programme yesterday, the NMA president kicked against the decision, saying if governors were allowed to manage cases, many Nigerians would suffer for it.

He said:  “The President should not devolve those powers to the state governments because, apart from Lagos and maybe one or two other states, the commitment is, to say the least, very disappointing. I can say that because I’m a clinician myself.

“I believe that the president should please not devolve those powers. This is an emergency. Coordination is very important and the coordination should be central, should be from a point, because once you do that, Nigerians will be finished. And we pray that he doesn’t do that.

“This is not a political issue; this is a health issue. It cuts across everybody. We know where the commitments are and we will need the president to please prevail on the governors. If we leave it to the governors, our people will suffer; they will die and it doesn’t really matter to many of them.”

Gov Bello locks down Kabba LG

Meanwhile, Governor Yahaya Bello of Kogi State has ordered the lockdown of the Kabba/Bunu Local Government Area, following alleged discovery of two cases of COVID-19 in the area.

The governor, who directed total lockdown of the area in Lokoja yesterday, said the measure would commence from midnight today for an initial fourteen days before it would be reviewed for further action.

The governor reiterated that although the state has not fully accepted the ‘position of the index case, in view of the manner it was ‘dubiously allocated to the state”, there was, however, need to take precautionary measures because of the “obvious move to spread the virus” in the state.

According to him, the state’s response team has conducted contact tracing of the family members of the affected persons, and that 13 people that were tested returned negative.

“The lockdown will enable the state government to carry out house-to-house tests of all residents and forestall infiltration of the area by agents of those who are keen on escalating the disease in the state.

“The state government is making arrangement to provide palliative to the residents of the area during the period, while security agents will be deployed to enforce the lockdown.

“During the lockdown, there shall be no house to house movement within the local government area. Street movement is completely prohibited within the local government area for the period,’’ Governor Bello said.

He called on the Federal Medical Centre management to urgently isolate its personnel, including doctors who came into contact with the “supposed index cases,” since they insisted the patients were positive.

The governor regretted that the pandemic had taken a political and economic turn in the country, adding that he was forced to take the decision he described as ‘painfull’.

He said:  “The politicisation of the Kogi issue further reinforced my earlier position and suspicion that political and   economic interests are the underlying variables behind the fictitious cases announced daily by NCDC.

“The supposed index cases were part of such politics. The manner in which the community leader (Chief Imam of Kabba, Sheik Ahmad Ejibunu) who was “stung by bees” was hurriedly moved to Abuja without the knowledge of the state government was suspicious.

‘’Equally suspicious was the declaration by the NCDC that the community leader and his son tested positive.  Even the son who was said to have tested positive is walking around, running errands for his father, instead of being in insolation as the NCDC guidelines stipulated.”.

Bello queried the rationale behind the NCDC ascribing positive status to the state just because of its proximity to positive neighbouring states.

“When we battled Lassa fevers, other neighbouring states did not contract from us, despite their proximity. Why is it a must now for us to contract the virus just because of our proximity to positive neighbouring states?.” the governor said.

He urged the people of the state not to panic, while continuing to observe all precautionary measures against the pandemic.

Kogi State government and the NCDC have constantly been at loggerheads over the status of the state, with the state insisting it is COVID-19 free and the NCDC saying the status was as a result of non-testing.

The issue got to a boiling point last week Wednesday when the NCDC announced that Kogi State had recorded two cases of COVID-19.  The state immediately rejected the announcement with its Commissioner for Information, Kingsley Fanwo, describing the NCDC reporting process as fraudulent.

Vanguard

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